Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the etiquette of names
The ruler of a state refers to his wife as his “Lady”. She refers to herself as “Little Maiden.” The people of the state refer to her as “our Lord’s Lady”, but when talking to people from other states, they refer to her as “our Little Lord.” People from other states also refer to her as ‘the Lord’s Lady’.
When preparing to meet someone for the first time, it can be all too easy to overlook the most basic details when carrying out your research into their professional and personal background. Knowing how they prefer to be addressed is just as vital as being aware of the university they attended, the number of children they have, and the books they have written — if not more so. The most surefire way of sucking the positive energy out of a meeting is to call someone by the wrong title or name.
This article features a translation of Chapter 14 of Book 16 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 16 here.
(1) Nobody seems to have any idea how this passage managed to end up at the end of Book 16. Most likely, it was culled from some text on ritual by a nameless editor. Perhaps its most distinctive feature is that it is one of the few chapters in the Analects that mentions women.
(2) Some commentators suggest that the passage may have been included because addressing a person correctly was a demonstration of respect and an essential element of ritual propriety. Even though he is not mentioned in the text, it is possible that Confucius is reminding everyone of the importance of adhering to the right naming conventions.
I took this image in the ancient cedar forests on Alishan in central Taiwan. Some of the trees there are over a thousand years old.